Annotate this Case
75 U.S. 15 (1869)
U.S. Supreme Court
The Eagle, 75 U.S. 8 Wall. 15 15 (1869)
75 U.S. (8 Wall.) 15
1. Since the decision (A.D. 1851) in the Genesee Chief, 12 How. 443, which decided that admiralty jurisdiction was not limited in this country to tide waters, but extended to the lakes and the waters connecting them, the previous act of 1845, 5 Stat. at Large 726, entitled "An act extending the jurisdiction of the district courts to certain cases upon the lakes and navigable waters connecting the same," and which went on the assumption (declared in the Genesee Chief to be a false one) that the jurisdiction of the admiralty was limited to tide waters, has become inoperative and ineffectual, with the exception of the clause which gives to either party the right of trial by jury when requested. The district courts, upon whom the admiralty jurisdiction was exclusively conferred by the Judiciary Act of 1789, can therefore take cognizance of all civil causes of admiralty jurisdiction upon the lakes and waters connecting them the same as upon the high seas, bays, and rivers navigable from the sea.
2. The Court observes also that from the reasons given why the act of 1845 has become inoperative, the clause (italicized in the lines below of this paragraph) in the ninth section of the Judiciary Act of 1789, which confers exclusive original cognizance of all civil causes of admiralty jurisdiction upon the district courts,
"including all seizures under laws of impost, navigation, or trade of the United States, where the seizures are made on waters which are navigable from the sea by vessels of ten or more tons burden, within their respective districts, as well as upon the high seas,"
is equally inoperative.
1. The Constitution declares that the power of the federal courts shall extend to "all cases of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction." And the Judiciary Act of 1789 gives to all the district courts
"exclusive original cognizance of all civil causes of admiralty and maritime jurisdiction, including all seizures under laws of impost, navigation, or trade of the United States, where the seizures are made on waters which are navigable from the sea by vessels of ten or more tons burden, within their respective districts as well as upon the high seas."
At the time when this act of 1789 was passed, admiralty jurisdiction, according to the ideas then generally entertained by both courts and bar, could be exercised only upon waters within the ebb and flow of the tide. [Footnote 1] Accordingly, in 1845, Congress, by a statute [Footnote 2] entitled "An act extending the jurisdiction of the district courts to certain cases upon the lakes and navigable waters connecting the same," enacted thus:
The district courts of the United States shall have, possess, and exercise the same jurisdiction in
"matters of contract and tort, arising in, upon, or concerning steamboats and other vessels of twenty tons burden and upwards, enrolled and licensed for the coasting trade, and employed in the business of commerce and navigation between ports and places in divers states and territories, upon the lakes and the navigable waters connecting the same as is now possessed and exercised by the said courts in cases of the like steamboats and other vessels employed in navigation and commerce on the high seas."
About six years after this statute was passed, the case of The Genesee Chief [Footnote 3] came before this Court. And in that case it was decided that the impression that admiralty jurisdiction in this country was limited to tide waters was a mistake,
and that the lakes and waters connecting them were within it.
After this decision, the language of certain cases [Footnote 4] seemed to indicate that the act of 1845 was to be regarded as limiting the exercise of this jurisdiction to those cases in which the act had meant, by way of extending the jurisdiction, to grant it.
In this state of statutory law and of judicial remark upon it, the tug Eagle, in September, 1864, was towing a brig and a barge from the head of the St. Clair River through the Detroit River, the brig being on her way from Saginaw, in Michigan, to Buffalo, in New York. The tug, getting a mile or so over the line which separates the British side of the river from ours, and out of the usual course of navigation, was sailing in shoal water when the brig grounded and the barge, which was attached to her, ran into her stern and seriously damaged her. Thereupon the owners of the brig filed a libel in the district court for Eastern Michigan, "in a cause of collision" against both tug and barge. It set forth that the brig was
"a vessel of twenty tons and upwards, duly enrolled and licensed at the port of Buffalo, State of New York, and used in navigating the waters of the northwestern lakes and the rivers connecting said lakes, and engaged in the business of commerce and navigation thereupon."
And also that the tug and barge were also both
"vessels of more than twenty tons burden, enrolled and licensed for the coasting trade, and used in navigating the waters of this state and the adjoining states, and now lying, or soon will be, at the port of Detroit, and within the admiralty and maritime jurisdiction of this Court."
The answers denied knowledge of these facts stated about the brig and called for proof, but admitted the tug and barge to be enrolled and licensed.
The answer for the barge further laid the whole blame on the tug, asserting that the sole cause of the disaster was
her going out of the proper course of navigation, while the answer for the tug stated there was no fault with her, and denied that the libellants had any claim "enforceable in this Court sitting in admiralty for said alleged damage."
Two questions were thus raised -- the first of merits; the second of jurisdiction. The district court dismissed the libel as to the barge and condemned the tug. This decree being confirmed by the circuit court, the case came here on appeal, where the question of merits was briefly urged, the point of jurisdiction being really the only question. It was admitted that by the law of Canada, where this damage was done, no lien or any action exists against a wrongdoing vessel or any right or lien in rem.
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